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An Origin Story was one of those titles that are not easy to decipher. It might refer to how the Observers get their abilities, or to how Peter started down a reckless path, or even in a twisted way, how this might be the beginning of something far bigger than we are able to see now. No matter the meaning of its title, the episode provided riveting details on some of the Observers technologies, opening the possibility of another path to freedom than Walter's plan, but ultimately, at its heart An Origin Story was about the Bishop family's loss and how each of its members coped with it.
The episode started slowly, with Peter looking at his daughter Etta's stuff with melancholy and the occasional pride (when he discovered her arsenal), and picked up in intensity right after. The arrival of the shipment from the future had everything needed to peak the viewer's curiosity and even boasted the additional benefit of being well crafted. From the static electricity and the blowing wind to the cargo sliding in midair, or even the neatly pressed Observers suits, everything filmed in that slightly darker hue (typical of the series) looked good. For a couple of years now, the word on the street has been that the show has been operating on a shoestring budget. If that is true, such scenes are all the more impressive.
Regarding the overall narrative, the first thing the episode did right was to break with the cycle which involved extracting a tape from amber and then following Walter's instructions. Ever since the attempts in season one to appeal to the masses failed and the show became highly serialized, Fringe has not locked itself in a repetitive and predictable pattern, so the fire-hazard was welcomed. About that fire-hazard, I would like to commend the writing. Here we are in an episode that we know from the onset will be dominated by grief under one form or another, but Astrid and Walter (and even Olivia who sank her head into her hands) managed to make us laugh without seemingly trying to.
Fringe always get emotional moments right by building them into the story or by using them to advance the overarching storyline. The opening scenes here again provided the clues on where we were headed: Peter gathered Etta's weapons, Olivia took her daughter's pictures, and Walter clung to a perfume bottle with a most touching explanation as to why. Peter was preparing for war, and Olivia started the process of shutting herself away while Walter watched, worried for them both, "you can't escape it [the pain] by building walls around your heart, or by breaking the universe, or by vengeance."
It was obviously too late as fate had already brought the perfect tools for vengeance into Peter's hand. The box, the notebook, and to some extent the captive (Observer) were the case of the week because they brought the episode's enigmas. Like every case of the week, they were the reason behind Walter's fringe-science lecture, which was surprisingly reasonable because it was visual (while the physics of it are something else entirely). Everything that passed between Peter and the captive was riveting, even the final explanation where the invader essentially said that Peter was only guided by his own intuition, which I found hard to swallow. There were so many ways to get things wrong and the tech is so alien to Peter that even a very good engineer had a lot of chances to blow things up, especially on the very last piece with the four prongs. Despite that run against probability, the scene worked because the Observer's explanation used the right veneer when saying he saw a fly on the wall. About small insects and metaphors, the connection between what the captive said on ants and the fact that Peter was later almost squashed by an Observer was neat.
That sequence, with the Observer's foot suspended above Peter's head, took place on the scene of the attempt to shut down the corridor. The team was led there by Astrid who was very convincing in her work on deciphering the invaders' language. She did all that while trying to be her usual reassuring self with Olivia who was "holding on by a thread." Once the attempt to turn the wormhole into a blackhole failed, the episode seemed to be on autopilot. When Peter mentioned how better he could be with the technology giving abilities to Observers, the stomach-churning next step was unavoidable. We are back to something the couple has already been through, only that Peter held onto his denial a bit longer than Olivia built walls around her heart. After her initial anger at Walter, she gave in but it was too late as her husband was already down the rabbit hole.
An Origin Story puzzling title might be so impenetrable because it just can't be understood at this point. The episode was gripping at every turn, but raised more questions than it answered: If Observers are still present in their timeline from which they are shipping tech, is another wave to come? What exactly happens to someone who gets that "thing" in their head/spine? Do they go bald and start using tabasco like we use cheese? And finally is this the beginning of a new path to freedom which doesn't involve Walter's plan? Oh, and while I am throwing questions, where are women Observers?
The episode's final moments were hard to watch because they drove a wedge between a couple that seems to be pursuing matrimonial bliss which keeps eluding them. The cruelty of the show is that what little happiness they had was off-screen, and its genius is that, although we heard of the previous rift, we are now seeing it for the first time, with hopes that the couple (essentially Peter at this point) would have learned their lesson.